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Jenn Weinshenker ~ Bio

              I was born out west and reared in the south. I remember sneaking outside in the middle of the night, stretching out on the chaise lounge in our backyard and basking in the glow of the full moon; hypnotized by its iridescence streaking across every blade of grass and leaf. I remember picking lemons off the trees in the yard for fresh lemonade.  And avocadoes dropping to the ground when they were ripe.  I remember coconuts, country doves, chameleons scurrying through bright multi-colored bushes, salty ocean breezes and hurricanes. 

            I remember a game we used to play in grammar school.  We would be sitting at our desks and then all of the sudden sirens would start blaring.  And then our teachers would calmly tell us this was a drill and we were to quickly and quietly duck and cover under our desks.  I remember when hurricane season came; our parents would board up the windows and run water in the bathtub and sinks and we would sit in this big closet until the worst of the storm had passed.  Once it thundered so loudly, the ground quaked. And the wind was so strong, when it blew over the house, everything rattled and shook.  All through the night the storm never let up.  It turned out the thunderous rumbling that made the ground quake came from tanks going down nearby streets.  And the big booms and wind that made our house shake were made by the planes that were flying overhead.  I remember my sister and I, sitting on the closet floor with my parents, in the dark; listening to a man's voice talking over the transistor radio. That was what the Cuban Missile Crisis felt like. I wasn't aware of politics.  I wasn't even afraid. I had no idea how close we had come to being vaporized.

      I remember the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Our teacher was crying when she told us we all had to go straight home.  Our principal was crying as he pulled the flag down to half-mast. I remember watching the news, for days, on our black and white television set.  Everyone was so sad.  I remember his funeral; the horses carrying his casket.  His young son waiving good-bye when it passed.  How sad his wife was.  I remember seeing LBJ being sworn in as president and thinking he knew something he couldn't talk about.  I remember thinking, as young as I was, that powerful people in our government were involved.  I think these events were the catalyst for my involvement in the peace movement that took place in the sixties and early seventies.

           In 1965 my parents divorced and we moved to a suburb of Chicago, where Mom had family and friends and more opportunities.  In a few years she had started her own business in the city and bought her own house.  Back then a single mother having a business loan, credit card or mortgage in her own name was extremely rare.  I will always be grateful for the way she strove to give my sister and I a life that included music, the arts and open minded people.  Mom taught us to work hard, dream big, never give up and most importantly she and my Grandmother instilled in us that we should never let our gender limit us from achieving whatever we wanted to accomplish in our lives. 

After graduating high school I went to Columbia College in Chicago. I worked and lived in my own apartment.  During winter, spring and summer breaks I took off to see what was going on in the rest of the country. I met all kinds of interesting people along the way. Those days it was unusual for a young female to travel alone. But I didn't care.  I remember thinking if I wait around until I have a friend or lover who wants to hit the road with me, I might never go anywhere. So I struck out on my own.

          Grandma taught me how to love the written word by daily reading Shakespeare, Whitman, Frost, Poe and Proust to me as a child. We spent our summers in Michigan where she taught me how to read and write in Latin.  Grandma introduced me to the writings and thoughts of Confucius, Emerson, Fromm and Sandburg. Soon I enjoyed reading these authors on my own and began studying historical accounts of WWII and the Holocaust.  I remember growing increasingly perplexed; trying to understand how normal, everyday people could be swayed to believe that genocide could ever be the solution to any problem.

           My family is a genetic mixed bag of religions and ethnicities.  At an early age, I was keenly aware that I didn't have a linear pedigree to claim as my own. I wasn't entitled to any particular territory or avenue to God. I remember wishing I could enjoy the security that came from being all of one thing. But in time, I grew to love being a mutt from a good home and took great comfort in the knowledge that my ancestors didn't let differences keep them from seeing something special in each other; regardless of their ethnic background or religious beliefs.  Whether or not this was considered proper or acceptable at the time wasn't an issue for them.  They married because they loved. I think that is why I felt comfortable wherever I went.  Because I understood that I was a part of this cool human family and I dug it. As I got older and traveled more; life's experiences began to show me that there were all kinds of people out there in the world, from all kinds of economic and social backgrounds, who had invaluable insights to share.  I remember figuring out that there was always going to be somebody with more money or more prestige, who felt they had more of a right to a life than I had. So I let it all go and decided to live simply. Not in a tepid manner but rather full out. Maybe this was why I felt free to explore life and go on adventures and talk with people I didn't know.  I was genuinely curious about what people had experienced and what motivated them to live inspired lives.

          In my youth I was an avid reader and loved to write stories and poetry. I was always working on a drawing or playing the piano. I spent countless hours staring out windows and wondering why... Back then my favorite places were the parks and beaches along the shores of Lake Michigan, the Chicago Art Institute, Ravinia Park, the Glass Hall and my grandparents' house on the other side of the Lake, in Michigan.

          In 1975 I left Illinois. I had fallen in love with the man who would become my husband and the father of our three children, while on spring break, in New Orleans. We traveled and had a good many years together. We later divorced in Colorado. A year or so after that the kids and I moved back to Michigan, to my grandparents' house on a small lake; where I had always felt loved and accepted. I worked and wrote and painted and of course, enjoyed every minute raising Matthew, Stephen and Rebekah. We were there several years when I married for the second time. This was an ill-fated union however and after four years we too, divorced. Since then I have enjoyed my solitude.

          In the summer of 1994 I was in a serious accident. My second husband was driving and my daughter was in the back of our van. Matt and Steve were visiting their dad in New York, for a little boy's time and Beks was going to meet them there in a week or two. And then one day, when we were driving, out of nowhere, a life altering moment happened that changed all of our lives. A car came speeding around a curve, into our lane, and crashed into us head-on. The driver of the other car died. We were all injured. I have a brain injury and have worked very hard to get my life back. Through years of rehab and with lots of help from my children, family, friends and Akitas;
I have learned how to live purposefully.

          For the next ten years, after the accident, I raised my children.  We moved to a small farm in Michigan. We had a great life there. We had amazing neighbors and the kids made wonderful friends.  We still cherish all of them.  When the kids graduated from high school and everyone was going in different directions; I knew that it was dangerous for me to try to take care of the farm and the llamas and donkeys by myself. And though I didn't want anything to change; once again I needed to face the reality that my life was evolving. I needed to stop resisting the inevitable and let it all go. I sold the farm and auctioned off my possessions and found homes for all of the farm animals and took the dogs and cats with me. I was planning on buying an old RV and hitting the road again; while I still could. It had been a long time since I had struck out on my own to see America and I was wondering what I would find. This plan however, made my family very nervous. So after much discussion I wound up moving close to my sister and her family. The University of Chicago Hospital wasn't too far away. And as our kids went off to college and traveled we figured we would always be able to see all of them when they came into town to visit. And besides, my sister and I were missing each other and were looking forward to living near one another again.

          Once I was settled, I decided to apply to Columbia College in Chicago. I wanted to see if I could handle going back to school. I wanted to get my degree and finish what I had started back in the early seventies because,
"It's never too late to live a new beginning."

          I have since graduated from Columbia and continue to paint in the warm weather months and write in the fall and winter. Creating this website was another huge goal I wanted to accomplish. It is the result of several classes at Columbia and lots of frustration and every now and then tears in the computer graphics lab. Thanks to Epie for being such a great tutor and friend and to some really terrific teachers, who expected professional quality work and accepted nothing less.  When I came back to college I knew I loved to paint and write but being mostly self-taught, I didn't have a lot of confidence in my work. I had some phenominal teachers who were incredible artists and writers in their own right. Because of their talent and the environment they created in their classrooms, my confidence grew in my own abilities and I wound up discovering new approaches to my work; which proved to be invaluable.

          When Beks came back from London the timing couldn't have been better. She decided to go to Columbia too and did all of the driving; which was still extremely difficult for me since the accident. Then Steve decided to leave the Kalamazoo and give Columbia a try too. He stayed in the dorms and got to know how to use the ELs.  We were learning and making friends and having a blast. We were always happy to see each other and share our experiences with one another. It was a beautiful part of life we will always share. Steve and Rebekah also graduated from Columbia College.  Matthew stayed in Kzoo for awhile but eventually came to see what we were up to and enjoyed being a part of all of it too.  He adjusted to city life and  they all live in the city now and are having a great time together.  They continue to be my source of inspiration and as always they are my "favorites."

          I've never cared about having a lot of money: Which is good when you are an artist and a writer. It seemed that poverty has long since been a sort of inadvertent vow: A rebellious declaration of liberty that demonstrated, maybe to my detriment; I was free to express myself unconditionally, through my work. I have been an artist and writer for nearly forty years.

Whatever I am, whatever I have been, it is reflected in my work. The story before you is mine; its interpretation though, is all your own.